Rheumatoid arthritis patients with continued low disease activity have similar outcomes over 10 years, regardless of initial therapy

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2017 Oct 1;56(10):1721-1728. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/kex236.


Objectives: To compare 10-year disease outcomes of RA patients who have continuous low disease activity and are on MTX with or without initial combination therapy with infliximab or prednisone and SSZ.

Methods: Recent-onset RA patients from the Behandel Strategieen (BeSt) (Dutch acronym for Treatment Strategies) study with 10 years of follow-up were analysed. Treatment was tightly controlled, targeted at DAS ⩽ 2.4. The selected patients had low disease activity from 6 months until 10 years and therefore did not intensify treatment. Patients were grouped into those receiving MTX monotherapy and those receiving initial combination therapy. Between-group differences over time were compared, using (generalized) linear mixed model analyses, for the outcomes DAS, HAQ, ESR, visual analogue scale patient global health, percentage of patients in (drug-free) remission and percentage of patients with Sharp/van der Heijde score progression ⩾5.

Results: At 10 years, 28/247 (11%) patients on MTX monotherapy (some tapered to drug free) had continued DAS ⩽ 2.4 compared with 68/261 (26%) patients on combination therapy (all tapered to monotherapy or drug free). No between-group differences in continuous responders were found over time, except for a higher percentage of patients in drug-free remission after MTX monotherapy. Significant group-time interactions were found for DAS, ESR and visual analogue scale patient global health, but the results seem clinically negligible.

Conclusion: More patients achieved continuous low disease activity on initial prednisone or infliximab combination therapy than on initial MTX monotherapy, but there appeared to be no additional benefits. Regardless of induction therapy, patients with continuous low disease activity have similar long-term outcomes, with only a higher proportion of patients in drug-free remission after MTX monotherapy.

Keywords: combination therapy; disease activity; long-term outcomes; methotrexate; rheumatoid arthritis; treatment.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antirheumatic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infliximab / administration & dosage
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Methotrexate / administration & dosage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Prednisone / administration & dosage
  • Remission Induction
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Sulfasalazine / administration & dosage
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Sulfasalazine
  • Infliximab
  • Prednisone
  • Methotrexate